Film Noir File: Classic so-good sleepers ‘The Narrow Margin,’ ‘The Locket’ and ‘Angel Face’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Pick of the Week: TCM’s Summer of Darkness continues to delight

Friday, July 24

The next-to-last chapter of TCM’s deluxe film-noir binge-a-thon Summer of Darkness commences today. It’s another feast for film noir buffs. As we know by now, Turner Classic Movies has been sharing its great shadowy treasure trove of classic film noir on Friday nights.

Marie Windsor

Marie Windsor

This week’s dark list includes Richard Fleischer’s terrific low-budget death-rides-the-train sleeper, “The Narrow Margin,“ starring Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor — one of director Billy Friedkin’s faves. You’ll also see Hollywood expressionist John Brahm’s stylish triple-flashback thriller, “The Locket” with Robert Mitchum. And don’t even think about missing Otto Preminger’s French critical favorite “Angel Face“ (one of Jean-Luc Godard’s picks for his all-time Best American Talkies list). This time Mitchum is smitten with Jean Simmons. Bitch-slap trivia: “Angel Face” is the movie where Mitchum punched Preminger for being mean to Jean.

Also on Friday’s all-day bill of noir: highlights with ace actors like Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Mitchum, Barbara Stanwyck, Mickey Rooney, Evelyn Keyes, Jane Russell, Jeanne Moreau, Vincent Price, John Payne and Raymond Burr, and directors like Nick Ray, Josef von Sternberg (on the same show), Louis Malle, Phil Karlson and Fritz Lang.

Curated and hosted in the evening by the Czar of Noir himself, Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation and the Noir City film festivals, TCM’s Summer of Darkness is a standout fest of classic killings, broken dreams and movie nightmares. All that and Marilyn Monroe (in “Clash by Night”) too.

We don’t want this summer to end!

6:45 a.m. (3:45 a.m.): “Roadblock” (1950, Harold Daniels). Charles McGraw and Joan Dixon in a poor man‘s “Double Indemnity.”

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “The Strip” (1951, Leslie Kardos). Mickey Rooney is a luckless jazz drummer who gets in a bad fix trying to help Hollywood hopeful Sally Forrest. The great guest musical stars here include Louis Armstrong, and Satchmo’s longtime friends and sidemen Jack Teagarden and Earl Hines.

9:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m.): “Beware, My Lovely” (1952, Harry Horner). Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan strike sparks in an icy domestic suspenser.

Robert Ryan and Marilyn Monroe are bored with small-town life in “Clash by Night.”

Robert Ryan and Marilyn Monroe are bored with small-town life in “Clash by Night.”

11:15 a.m. (8:15 a.m.): “Clash by Night” (1953, Fritz Lang). Barbara Stanwyck is an independent woman in 1950s America. Trouble, here we come! She can’t keep a man, but then who’d want to when edgy Robert Ryan is around to get in trouble with? Marilyn Monroe is splendid as a small-town factory girl.

1:15 p.m. (10:15 a.m.): “Kansas City Confidential” (1952, Phi Karlson). A good crisp Karlson heist, pulled off by a mob that includes Preston Foster and Colleen Gray.

3 p.m. (12 p.m.): “Macao” (1952, Josef von Sternberg & Nicholas Ray).

4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “Talk About a Stranger” (1952, David Bradley). Gossipers wreak havoc in a talky small town. A look at U. S. Senator George Murphy and First Lady Nancy Davis (Reagan) in their movie days.

6:15 p.m. (3:15 p.m.): “Split Second” (1953, Dick Powell). In this nerve-racking thriller, outlaw Stephen McNally and hostages Alexis Smith, Jan Sterling and others are trapped together in a desert nuclear bomb testing site.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Narrow Margin” (1952, Richard Fleischer).

9:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m.): “His Kind of Woman” (1951, John Farrow).

11:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m.): “The Locket” (1946, John Brahm).

1:30 a.m. (10:30 p.m.): “Angel Face” (1953, Otto Preminger).

3:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m.): “Elevator to the Gallows” (1958, Louis Malle).

[Read more…]

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Film Noir File: TCM’s badass binge continues with darkside divas Barbara Stanwyck, Lizabeth Scott and more

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Pick of the Week: Summer of Darkness soldiers on

Barbara Stanwyck plays the tough-as-nails title broad in “Martha Ivers.” Kirk Douglas plays her husband.

Barbara Stanwyck plays the tough-as-nails title broad in “Martha Ivers.” Kirk Douglas plays her husband.

Unless you’re a noirista who has been living under a rock, you know that TCM’s badass binge of film noir continues this Friday.

This week TCM’s list includes the spine-tingling masterpiece “Strangers on a Train” and the lesser-known but compelling melodrama “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers,” plus noir highlights by and with ace actors like Humphrey Bogart, Robert Ryan, Robert Mitchum, recent birthday gal Barbara Stanwyck, Lizabeth Scott, and Audrey Totter, brilliant writers like Patricia Highsmith, W. R. Burnett and Cornell Woolrich, and directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Joseph H. Lewis, Phil Karlson and Anthony Mann.

Lizabeth Scott and Van Heflin co-star in “Martha Ivers.”

Lizabeth Scott and Van Heflin co-star in “Martha Ivers.”

Curated and hosted by the Czar of Noir himself, Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation and the Noir City film festivals, TCM’s Summer of Darkness is one festival of classic dreams and movie nightmares, you don’t want to miss. As Raymond Chandler once said about Phillip Marlowe, in “The Simple Art of Murder”: “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid…”

Friday, July 17

7:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.): “Tension” (John Berry, 1950).

Robert Mitchum

Robert Mitchum

9:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m.): “Where Danger Lives” (John Farrow, 1950). Robert Mitchum is dragged to the bad side of the border and the law by second-tier femme fatale Faith Domergue. This one has its moments.

11 a.m. (8 a.m.): “The Woman on Pier 13” (“I Married a Communist”) (Robert Stevenson, 1950).

12:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m.): “A Lady Without Passport” (Joseph H. Lewis, 1950). Hedy Lamarr is an illegal alien who proves irresistible to secret service man John Hodiak. Stylishly wrought by the director of “Gun Crazy” and “My Name is Julia Ross.”

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Cause for Alarm” (Tay Garnett, 1951). Loretta Young, caught in a noir trap of lies and murder. With Barry Sullivan.

3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m.): “No Questions Asked” (Harold F. Kress, 1951). Barry Sullivan is an insurance agent gone bad. With Arlene Dahl and other temptations.

Farley Granger and Robert Walker have a wonderful weird chemistry in “Strangers on a Train.”

Farley Granger and Robert Walker have a wonderful weird chemistry in “Strangers on a Train.”

4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “Strangers on a Train” (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951).

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “The Racket” (John Cromwell, 1951). Gangster Robert Ryan and tough cop Robert Mitchum duke it out in this moody adaptation of Bartlett Cormack’s hit stage play.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Too Late for Tears” (Byron Haskin, 1949). Recently restored by the FNF, this sleeper stars Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea. The film examines the evils of money. Seriously?

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” (Lewis Milestone, 1946).

12:15 a.m. (9: 15 p.m.): “99 River Street” (Phil Karlson, 1953). Taut little thriller, with unlucky but feisty cabbie John Payne caught in a frame-up, directed with panache by B-maestro Karlson (“The Phenix City Story”). Evelyn Keyes co-stars.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Conflict” (Curtis Bernhardt, 1945). Bogie in his bad mode, tormenting Alexis Smith and trying to evade Sydney Greenstreet.

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.). “Klute” (Alan Pakula, 1971).

Saturday, July 18

8:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m.). “Crime and Punishment” (Josef von Sternberg, 1935). Director Sternberg, in his Dietrich years, tackles Fyodor Dostoyevsky, with the young Lucien Ballard behind the camera, and a cast that includes Peter Lorre (as the gloomy, philosophical student killer) and Edward Arnold (as his nemesis, genial and persistent police detective).

3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m.) “Rebel Without a Cause” (Nicholas Ray, 1955).

5:15 p.m. (2:15 p.m.): “Lolita” (Stanley Kubrick, 1962). Kubrick’s superb film of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic comic-erotic novel about the dangerous affair of college professor Humbert Humbert (James Mason) with nymphet Lolita (Sue Lyon). [Read more…]

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Film Noir File: Lupino, Spillane light up Summer of Darkness

 By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Pick of the Week: Summer of Darkness sizzles on

“Kiss Me Deadly” has an unforgettable opening.

“Kiss Me Deadly” has an unforgettable opening.

You know the drill. Each Friday, throughout June and July, running from dawn to dusk and back again, TCM is screening practically every classic film noir you can think of. This week, the dark list includes “D.O.A.” and “Raw Deal,” plus the talents of writers Mickey Spillane and A. I. Bezzerides, director Robert Aldrich and actor Ralph Meeker (as private eye Mike Hammer), all of whom took part in that Eisenhower-era masterpiece “Kiss Me Deadly.” And though Spillane may have disliked the picture Aldrich made from his violent paperback best-seller, most noir buffs love it. Count us in!

Also, there are terrific turns by that magnificent dame Ida Lupino as both actress (in Nick Ray’s and Bezzerides’ “On Dangerous Ground”) and director (in Ida’s classic B suspenser “The Hitch-Hiker”). Curated and hosted by the Czar of Noir, Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation and the Noir City film festivals, TCM’s Summer of Darkness is one festival of classic dreams and movie nightmares you won’t want to miss.

Friday, July 10

Who doesn't love Gloria Grahame?

Who doesn’t love Gloria Grahame?

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “Follow Me Quietly” (Richard Fleischer, 1949). Neat little B thriller about the manhunt for a crazed killer. With William Lundigan and famed acting teacher/blacklist victim Jeff Corey.

7:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m.): “A Woman’s Secret” (Nicholas Ray, 1949). Nick Ray directs, and Herman Mankiewicz writes, a kind of cut-rate “All About Eve.” With Maureen O’Hara and Gloria Grahame.

9 a.m. (6 a.m.): “Side Street” (Anthony Mann, 1950).

10:30 a.m. (7:30 a.m.): “Black Hand” (Richard Thorpe). Gene Kelly vs. The Mafia.

12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.): “Armored Car Robbery” (Richard Fleischer, 1950).

1:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m.): “Caged” (John Cromwell, 1950). Before there was “Orange Is the New Black,” there was “Caged.” One of the best and grimmest of the “women’s prison” pictures, with Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead, Hope Emerson, Jan Sterling and Jane Darwell.

D.O.A poster3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m.): “D.O.A.” (Rudolph Maté, 1950).

4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “Destination Murder” (Edward L. Cahn, 1950). Joyce McKenzie vs. The Mob.

6:15 p.m. (3:15 p.m.): “The Tattooed Stranger” (Edward Montagne, 1950). N. Y. murder, investigated. With John Miles.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Red Light” (Roy Del Ruth, 1949). A vendetta noir sandwich with George Raft and Raymond Burr. Hold the (Virginia) Mayo.

9:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m.): “Kiss Me Deadly” (Robert Aldrich, 1955).

11:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m.): “On Dangerous Ground” (Nicholas Ray, 1951). Ida Lupino plays a blind country girl who lives with her brother. She meets a psychologically scarred cop (Robert Ryan) when her brother becomes a suspect in a murder. With a taut script by A. I. Bezzerides and moody, poetic direction from Nicholas Ray, “On Dangerous Ground” is an unforgettable film noir.

1:30 a.m. (10:30 p.m.): “The Hitch-Hiker” (Ida Lupino, 1953).

2:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m.): “The Blue Dahlia” (George Marshall, 1946).

4:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.): “Raw Deal” (Anthony Mann, 1948).

Monday, July 13

Bob Mitchum was an actor who had no fear, few limits and no false vanity.

Bob Mitchum was an actor who had no fear, few limits and no false vanity.

9:45 a.m. (8:45 a.m.): “The Bad Sleep Well” (Akira Kurosawa, 1960). A great, savage crime drama, set in the world of corrupt and murderous Japanese corporate businessmen. With Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori and Takashi Shimura. (In Japanese, with subtitles.)

Wednesday, July 15

12:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m.): “The Night of the Hunter” (Charles Laughton, 1955).

4:15 a.m. (1:15 a.m.): “Pitfall” (André de Toth, 1948).

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Robert Ryan author J.R. Jones to appear at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in conversation with Film Noir Blonde

Robert Ryan exuded masculinity and mystery in equal parts and he’s always been one of my favorite film noir actors. He could easily play a good guy but his forte was for those tormented, enigmatic characters, who were dark and volatile, moody and quick-tempered.

Robert Ryan book coverRemember him as an embittered vet in “Act of Violence,” (1948, Fred Zinnemann), where he co-starred with Van Heflin, Janet Leigh and Mary Astor? He made his mark the previous year as a vicious bigot in “Crossfire” (1947, Edward Dmytryk) with Robert Young, Robert Mitchum and Gloria Grahame.

He was unforgettable as the over-the-hill boxer fighting his last fight in “The Set-Up” (1949, Robert Wise) with Audrey Totter, and as the tormented cop in “On Dangerous Ground” (1952, Nicholas Ray) with Ida Lupino. In 1959, playing another bigot, Ryan again worked with Wise in the classic heist movie “Odds Against Tomorrow” which also starred Harry Belafonte, Gloria Grahame and Shelley Winters.

Not to mention “The Naked Spur,” “Bad Day at Black Rock,” “God’s Little Acre,” “Billy Budd,” “The Dirty Dozen,” The Wild Bunch” and “The Iceman Cometh.”

So, I am very excited to announce that I will be talking with Chicago-based author J.R. Jones about his new book, “The Lives of Robert Ryan,” at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 16, at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood.

“Crossfire” was the film that put Robert Ryan on the map.

“Crossfire” was the film that put Robert Ryan on the map.

According to Amazon: “The Lives of Robert Ryan” provides an inside look at the gifted, complex, intensely private man whom Martin Scorsese called “one of the greatest actors in the history of American film.”

The son of a Chicago construction executive with strong ties to the Democratic machine, Ryan became a star after World War II. … His riveting performances expose the darkest impulses of the American psyche during the Cold War.

At the same time, Ryan’s marriage to a liberal Quaker and his own sense of conscience launched him into a tireless career of peace and civil rights activism that stood in direct contrast to his screen persona. Drawing on unpublished writings and revealing interviews, film critic J.R. Jones deftly explores the many contradictory facets of Robert Ryan’s public and private lives, and how these lives intertwined in one of the most compelling actors of a generation.

Larry Edmunds Bookshop is at 6644 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90028, 323-463-3273.

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Film Noir File: Sit back and enjoy a night with Bogie & Bacall

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classi  c Movies (TCM). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Pick of the Week: Bogie and Bacall night is Tuesday, April 7

“To Have and Have Not” was the couple’s first film together.

“To Have and Have Not” was the couple’s first film together.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall – the King and Queen of film noir – make for a royally cool evening. First: A documentary-memoir by Bacall, followed by two of the nonpareil pair’s top shows, adapted from books by Ernest Hemingway and David Goodis. Sit back, pour yourself a cold one, and enjoy. And remember: Another vintage Bogart, “Casablanca,” plays (again Sam), Tuesday morning on TCM. (See below.)

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Bacall on Bogart” (David Heeley, 1988). A bio-pic gem. Baby on Bogie – and who knew him better?

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.): “To Have and Have Not” (Howard Hawks, 1944).

5:15 a.m. (2:15 a.m.): “Dark Passage” (Delmer Daves, 1947).

Saturday, April 4

Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Witness for the Prosecution” (Billy Wilder, 1957). “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957, Billy Wilder) From the famous Agatha Christie short story, Billy Wilder expertly fashions one of the screen’s trickiest trial-drama/murder mysteries – with Charles Laughton as the wily, wheelchair-bound barrister, his real-life wife Elsa Lanchester as his long-suffering nurse, and Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich as the incendiary couple caught up in a legendary triple-reverse surprise ending.

10:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m.): “Laura” (Otto Preminger, 1944).

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Klute” (Alan Pakula, 1971). Jane Fonda as a brainy hooker (her first Oscar-winning performance) being pursued by a psycho killer. Donald Sutherland plays Klute, the cop who tries to help and save her. A classy, first-class neo-noir.

Monday, April 6

“His Kind of Woman” is a tongue-in-cheek noir, down Mexico way.

“His Kind of Woman” is a tongue-in-cheek noir, down Mexico way.

1:45 a.m. (10:45 p.m.): “Macao” (Josef von Sternberg, 1952). Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell strike sultry sparks in this exotic thriller from Howard Hughes’ RKO.

Directed by Josef Von Sternberg, with uncredited reshooting by Nick Ray. Co-starring Gloria Grahame, William Bendix and Thomas Gomez.

3:15 a.m. (12:15 a.m.): “His Kind of Woman” (John Farrow, 1951). Down Mexico way, in a Hollywood-style resort, Jane Russell is his kind of woman. And Robert Mitchum is her kind of man.

Gangster Raymond Burr and overripe actor Vincent Price are our kind of heavies in this breezy, funny tongue-in-cheek noir.

Tuesday, April 7

11:45 a.m. (8:45 a.m.): “Casablanca” (Michael Curtiz, 1942).

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “Passage to Marseille” (Michael Curtiz, 1944).

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Mildred Pierce” (Michael Curtiz, 1945).

The classic trio of “Casablanca.”

The classic trio of “Casablanca.”

See Pick of the Week above.

Wed., April 8

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Bunny Lake Is Missing” (Otto Preminger, 1965). Bunny Lake is an American child kidnapped in London, Carol Lynley her terrified mother, Keir Dullea her concerned uncle, Anna Massey her harassed teacher, Noel Coward her sleazy landlord, and Laurence Olivier the shrewd police detective trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The most important of those pieces: Was Bunny ever really there at all? A neglected gem; based on Evelyn Piper’s novel.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “La Strada” (Federico Fellini, 1954).

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (Ralph Nelson, 1962).

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The Film Noir File: Paying tribute to Otto Preminger

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). All movies below are from the schedule of TCM, which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week

Happy Birthday, Otto Preminger (1905-1986)

Friday, Dec. 5

During the filming of “Angel Face,” Robert Mitchum bonded with Jean Simmons when he came to her defense against Preminger’s mistreatment.

During the filming of “Angel Face,” Robert Mitchum bonded with Jean Simmons when he came to her defense against Preminger’s mistreatment.

His nickname was “Otto the Ogre.” He was one of the most colorful and feisty of all the star Golden Age Hollywood directors. His verbal abuse of actors, including beautiful actresses and children, was legendary.

But Otto Preminger – known for his hot temper, thick German accent, bald bullet head, defiance of taboos and long camera takes – was also one of the czars of film noir in the 1940s and early ’50s, when he directed classics like “Laura,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “Angel Face.” Later on, he made one of the best of all trial dramas, 1959’s “Anatomy of a Murder,” and directed the neglected 1965 British thriller “Bunny Lake is Missing.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Gene Tierney and Vincent Price size each other up in Otto Preminger’s “Laura.”

Gene Tierney and Vincent Price size each other up in Otto Preminger’s “Laura.”

6:15 a.m. (3:15 a.m.): “The Human Factor” (1970). Preminger’s last film – a faithful adaptation of Graham Greene’s dark, knowing novel about a British defector/putative spy (Nicol Williamson) – has a good, smart script, inspired by the Kim Philby case, written by playwright Tom Stoppard. The top cast includes Derek Jacobi, Richard Attenborough, Iman, John Gielgud and Robert Morley. But it suffers from a parsimonious budget and Otto’s declining film fortunes.

8:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m.) “Advise and Consent” (1962). With Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Don Murray, Walter Pidgeon, Gene Tierney, Burgess Meredith and Franchot Tone. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 4, 2013.

The Man with the Golden Arm poster12:45 p.m.: (9:45 a.m.): “The Man with the Golden Arm” (1955) As a man struggling to give up his heroin habit, Frank Sinatra leads a superb cast in this riveting adaptation of Nelson Algren’s novel. Kim Novak plays his ex-girlfriend. Sinatra earned a Best Actor Oscar nom; the film’s music (by Elmer Bernstein) and art direction-set decoration also were considered for Oscars. With Eleanor Parker and Darren McGavin.

4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “Angel Face” (1953). With Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons and Herbert Marshall.

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “Laura” (1944). With Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Judith Anderson and Vincent Price.

Other non-noir Premingers shown on his birthday are his two well-made stage adaptations: George Bernard Shaw’s historical drama “Saint Joan” (1957), scripted by Greene, with Jean Seberg, Richard Widmark and Anton Walbrook at 10:45 a.m. (7:45 a.m.) and F. Hugh Herbert’s controversial sex comedy “The Moon is Blue” (1953), with William Holden, Maggie McNamara and David Niven, at 3 p.m. (12 p.m.). Both are worth a look.

Sunday, Dec. 7

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “The Lady Vanishes” (1938, Alfred Hitchcock). With Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood, Dame May Whitty and Paul Lukas.

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Film Noir File: Ryan seethes with rage in ‘Crossfire’

Crossfire posterLast Friday was my birthday and I have been having much fun celebrating. As a result, the Film Noir File has just one entry!

Tuesday, Sept. 23, 12:15 a.m. (9:15 p.m.) on TCM:

Crossfire” (1947, Edward Dmytryk). Based on the novel “The Brisk Foxhole” by the young Richard Brooks and directed by Edward Dmytryk in what many feel was the best period of his career, this is the famous postwar thriller about an anti-Semitic murder and the returning American soldiers mixed up in it. Co-starring Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Robert Young, Sam Levene and Gloria Grahame.

The film is moody and gripping, filled with noirish dark-hued scenes, and the entire cast is excellent. But the performance everyone tends to remember best is Bob Ryan as the anti-Jewish soldier – a role that Ryan packs with seething, psychopathic hatred and rage. Incidentally, in Brooks’ original novel, the murder victim was not Jewish, but homosexual.

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Preminger provides hands-on direction in ‘Angel Face’

Angel Face/1952/RKO Radio Pictures/91 min.

Angel Face posterWho in his right mind would bitch-slap an angel? Well, in film-noir, no one is really in his right mind and in “Angel Face” Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons) isn’t quite what you’d call a cherub.

No, her heavenly exterior (spoiled but stunningly gorgeous rich girl) masks a demonic core (cold-blooded killer). So when hysterical Diane takes a smack from her beloved Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) she hits him right back.

That’s cool for the characters, but I wonder what excuse director/producer Otto Preminger had? When filming the scene, Preminger insisted on repeated takes of Mitchum slapping Simmons.

Fed up, Mitchum slapped Preminger, asking, “Is that how you want it?”

Preminger retaliated by trying to fire Mitchum, but Howard Hughes, the real power behind the movie, refused. Hughes wanted Mitchum and Simmons. He wanted Simmons off-screen as well and made a pest of himself trying to seduce her, no matter that she was married to Stewart Granger.

With Preminger and Hughes harassing her, Simmons was lucky to have Mitchum around to stick up for her – you might even say he was her guardian angel. Maybe Preminger couldn’t handle the pressure; for contractual reasons, the whole film was shot in about 18 days.

The movie was knocked by critics upon its release, but was later ranked by the great French director Jean-Luc Godard as one of the 10 Best American Films of the Sound Era. It’s worth watching on that basis alone. Oh, and then there’s 90 minutes of looking at Mitchum. Mmmm. It’s worth watching on that basis alone.

Spoiled rich girl Diane (Jean Simmons) wants Frank (Robert Mitchum) all to herself. So there.

Spoiled rich girl Diane (Jean Simmons) wants Frank (Robert Mitchum) all to herself. So there.

Here’s the setup: Responding to a medical emergency at the Tremayne home, ambulance driver Frank meets a strange little family, with skeletons aplenty: Diane and her Daddy (Herbert Marshall) enjoy loafing around their roomy mansion and do their best to avoid Dad’s stick-in-the-mud second wife Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O’Neil, who was also Scarlett’s mom in “Gone With The Wind”).

Diane gloms onto Frank, even though he has a girlfriend, the virtuous, slightly bland and aptly named Mary Wilton (Mona Freeman). Frank’s basically a good guy but loyalty isn’t his strong suit. Learning that his dream is to open a garage, Diane convinces her folks to hire him as the family chauffeur; she tells Frank that her indulgent parents might just throw some start-up cash his way.

But when Mumsy suddenly starts getting stingy, Diane decides to arrange a tragic car “accident” for the stuffy Mrs. Moneybags. What could go wrong? Well, Daddy could also get in the car (he does). And Diane and Frank could wind up getting charged with murder (they do).

Diane and her Daddy (Herbert Marshall) enjoy loafing around their roomy mansion. Dad’s second wife Catherine (Barbara O’Neil) foots the bill.

Diane and her Daddy (Herbert Marshall) enjoy loafing around their roomy mansion. Dad’s second wife Catherine (Barbara O’Neil) foots the bill.

Diane doesn’t sweat it, though. She can afford a pricey, clever lawyer Fred Barrett (Leon Ames). Thanks to his legal maneuvering and the legal ineptitude of District Attorney Judson (Jim Backus, yep, that’s Thurston Howell III, aka Mr. Magoo), she and Frank are acquitted.

They’re free, but Frank’s not about to stick around, even though he knows firsthand that Diane has a knack for causing fatal accidents and that she has a way of getting all “If I can’t have him, nobody else can either” about things …

“Angel Face” is not a definitive noir. The camera work and lighting don’t contribute to a sense of doom or create a mood of suspense. There’s far too much sunshine and fresh air here. Dimitri Tiomkin’s romantic music lends lightness as well.

None of that should diminish its standing, however. This quirky flick – which owes a debt to “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946) as well as 1945’s “Leave Her to Heaven” and “Fallen Angel,” which Preminger also produced and directed – has flashes of original brilliance: a splendid cast; perfectly symmetrical story structure; an unhurried pace. Frank Nugent, Oscar Millard and an uncredited Ben Hecht wrote the script from a Chester Erskine story.

“Angel Face” shows how noir flexed and began to reinvent itself in the ’50s, reacting less to post-war malaise and more to the conformity and quiet corruption of the 1950s. Note all the references to the power, temptation and ultimate taint of money. Nearly everyone becomes a victim of greed.

The trial scenes, with Preminger’s trademark long takes, prefigure his courtroom drama masterwork, “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959) starring James Stewart, George C. Scott and Lee Remick.

Mitchum is, gloriously, Mitchum. And Simmons makes an unforgettable Eisenhower-era femme fatale: the dangerous, decadent diabolical rich girl. When Godard and Jean Seberg created the treacherous beauty Patricia in “Breathless,” they must have been thinking, at least a little, of Simmons’ Angel Face, the gorgeous girl who got slapped.

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The Film Noir File: ‘Out of the Past,’ newly out on Blu-ray, hits TCM on Thursday

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). All movies below are from the schedule of TCM, which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week:

 Robert Mitchum falls hard for Jane Greer and, baby, he doesn’t care.


Robert Mitchum falls hard for Jane Greer and, baby, he doesn’t care.

Out of the Past” (1947, Jacques Tourneur). 2 a.m. (11 p.m.). Thursday, July 24. With Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 12, 2010. (See Tourneur‘s “Cat People” below, on Sunday.)

Wednesday July 23

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Bullitt” (1968, Peter Yates). With Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Vaughn and Robert Duvall. Reviewed in FNB on Oct. 27, 2012.

10:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m.): “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948, John Huston). With Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Alfonso Bedoya and Bruce Bennett. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 31, 2012.

12:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m.): “Belle de Jour” (1967, Luis Bunuel). With Catherine Deneuve, Michel Piccoli, Jean Sorel and Genevieve Page. Reviewed in FNB on Aug. 8, 2013.

2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.): “Blowup” (1966: Michelangelo Antonioni). With David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles and The Yardbirds. Reviewed in FNB on June 19, 2014.


Thursday, July 24

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Out of the Past” See Pick of the Week.

Metropolis posterSaturday, July 26

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Metropolis” (1927, Fritz Lang). With Brigitte Helm, Rudolf Klein-Rogge and Alfred Abel. Reviewed in FNB on May 29, 2014.

2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.): “Spider Baby” (1964, Jack Hill). An insane, incestuous, greed-crazed Southern family runs amok in a dilapidated, decaying mansion. One of the wildest and campiest of all the ’60s low-budget horror quickie noirs, with a plot that makes “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” look like “The Song of Bernadette.” Lon Chaney Jr., Sid Haig and Quinn K. Redeker costar.

Sunday, July 27

12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.): “The Ladykillers” (1955, Alexander Mackendrick) With Alec Guinness, Katie Johnson, Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom. Reviewed in FNB on July 31, 2013.

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Blackboard Jungle” (1955, Richard Brooks.) With Glenn Ford, Sidney Poitier, Anne Francis, and Vic Morrow. Reviewed in FNB on Apr. 18, 2013. In Memoriam: Paul Mazursky.

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955, Nicholas Ray). With James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Dennis Hopper and Jim Backus. Reviewed in FNB on Apr. 18, 2013.

Cat People poster8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Cat People” (1942, Jacques Tourneur). Subtle, moody, gently chilling, this low-budget RKO supernatural noir, about a foreign émigré (Simone Simon) – whose soul is coveted by a coven of cat people – is a poetic suspense movie in which the horrors are suggested rather than shown. It was the first of the legendary Val Lewton-produced literate fright classics. Scripted by DeWitt Bodeen; with Kent Smith and Tom Conway.

9:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m.): “The Curse of the Cat People” (1944, Robert Wise & Gunther von Fritsch). Producer Val Lewton’s sequel to the classic “Cat People,” with the spirit of the first film’s beautiful feline victim Simone Simon returning to bedazzle the child of her bereaved ex-husband (Kent Smith). Robert Wise’s directorial debut, and a good one. (Followed at 10:45 p.m. (7:45 p.m.), by the documentary “Martin Scorsese presents Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows.”)

12:15 a.m. (9:15 p.m.): “Pandora’s Box” (1928, G. W. Pabst). With Louise Brooks, Fritz Rasp and Francis (Franz) Lederer. (Silent German Movie with music score.) Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 3, 2012.

2:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m.): “La Haine” (1995, Mathieu Kassovitz). Stylish, stark and violent black-and white drama of French juvenile delinquency in Paris and its suburban banlieues. With Vincent Cassel, Hubert Kounde and Said Taghmaoui. (In French with subtitles.)

Wednesday, July 30

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Detective Story” (1951, William Wyler). With Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Parker, William Bendix and Lee Grant. Reviewed in FNB on June 20, 2013.

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‘Red Rock West’ still rocks, 21 years later

Red Rock West posterRed Rock West/1993/Red Rock Films/98 min.

Nicolas Cage’s new movie “Joe” is being hailed as Cage’s comeback. It’s a meaty role in a dark film about desperate people doing bad things, to be sure.  But I like my degenerates a bit more clever and I kept thinking of Cage’s terrific turn in the smart and stylish neo-noir “Red Rock West.” It’s now 21 years old and I think it improves with age.

In playing Michael Williams, an ex-Marine looking for a job in a dusty Wyoming town, Cage creates an uncommonly sympathetic character. Rejected for a spot on an oil-drilling crew because of his bad leg, Michael figures he’s got nothing to lose by stopping into the Red Rock West tavern, the hub of a bustling metropolis of 200 people.

Brooding tavern-owner Wayne Brown (J.T. Walsh) mistakes Michael for a hitman known as Lyle from Dallas (damn those Texas license plates). Wayne wants his wife, Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle), out of his hair forever. Before Michael’s picked up a buzz, he stumbles into a quagmire of serpentine deception and murder for hire.

Since he accepted the cash, Michael gives it a go, but changes his mind when he gets an eyeful of the raven-haired, fine-boned Suzanne – a flinty, ferocious femme fatale – and hears her side of the story, including a chapter in which she wants Michael to kill Wayne. “Being married does strange things to people,” she tells him.

Nic Cage and Lara Flynn Boyle remind us of Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer.

Nic Cage and Lara Flynn Boyle remind us of Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer.

Michael hits the road but comes to a screeching halt as he nearly drives over a body, who, it turns out, is Suzanne’s ex-lover. Then the real Lyle from Dallas (the inimitable Dennis Hopper) shows up. Lyle from Dallas don’t take kindly to another man messin’ with his hard-earned hit money. Natch.

It also turns out that Wayne works two jobs – tavern owner and, gulp, town sheriff. Actually make that three – pre-Red Rock, he and Suzanne robbed a bank in Illinois for about $2 million. Suzanne don’t take kindly to anybody messin’ with her haul from the robbery so, with Michael in tow, she sets out to stake her claim, then vamoose South of the Border. But, in the end, Michael isn’t quite the slave to cash that she is and when she finally heads out of town, it’s not quite in the style she’d been planning.

Dennis Hopper plays the "real" hitman from Texas.

Dennis Hopper plays the “real” hitman from Texas.

At 98 minutes, “Red Rock West” is a taut, sexy, funny story that lingers at the right spots and lurches forward just when you were getting cozy. The scene in the graveyard where the four principals dig up bills and duke it out, then plug and pierce the night away is stellar. As they go through bullets, blades, a sword and chains, Hopper snarls, Cage seethes, and Boyle shows prowess with a pistol. Fine performances, all around.

Director John Dahl, who co-wrote the script with his brother Rick, taps 1940s film noir roots with their exploration of shifting identities, appearance vs. reality and the range of motivations that drive people to create their own moral codes. Cage’s disillusioned dreamer recalls the laconic sadness of a young Robert Mitchum, though Cage’s part doesn’t quite allow him to plumb the depths of darkness. Boyle recalls the regal beauty of Gene Tierney and the cool intensity of Jane Greer.

The story is set in a dusty Wyoming town.

The story is set in a dusty Wyoming town.

Infused with humor, the script meditates on the role that luck plays in our lives. We see that Cage has borne Fortune’s smiles and blows. At one point, upon finding his gas tank near empty, he mutters, “F’ing story of my life.”

Natives of Billings, Montana, the Dahls set the film not in a claustrophobic or hostile big city but in sunny Western climes, which work well to highlight Cage’s isolation and desperation. Country singer and actor Dwight Yoakam plays a grimy a truck driver who gives Cage a lift and Yoakam’s mournful “Thousand Miles From Nowhere” is a fitting conclusion to the film’s score. (Dahl started his career directing shorts and music videos.)

After 1989’s “Kill Me Again” and “Red Rock,” John Dahl made “The Last Seduction” in 1994 as well as “Rounders” in 1998 and “You Kill Me” in 2007. He’s also worked on many high-profile TV shows like “Breaking Bad,” “True Blood” and “Dexter.” We hope he and Nic Cage can hook up again – a slick thriller, or a jet-black TV series, perhaps? We’re waiting impatiently.

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